Medical Library: Foot & Ankle – Ankle Instability

Most of us have injured one of our ankles at some point in time, from a mild strain, to a sprain or even a fracture. Once an injury has occurred, the ligaments may not heal with the same strength as they originally had, which can lead to an overall weakening of the joint. Chronic ankle instability is a condition characterized by a recurring “giving way” of the outer side of the ankle. The “giving way” may occur while moving or being active athletically, but it can also happen when you’re just standing still. Chronic ankle instability is common in athletes and the general population as well.


  • A repeated turning of the ankle, especially on uneven surfaces or when participating in sports
  • Persistent discomfort and swelling
  • Pain or tenderness
  • The ankle feeling wobbly or unstable

Chronic ankle instability often develops after an ankle sprain that has not adequately healed or was not rehabilitated completely. When you sprain your ankle, the connective tissues or ligaments are stretched or torn, and the ability to balance is often affected. Proper rehabilitation is needed to strengthen the muscles around the ankle and “retrain” the tissues within the ankle that affect balance. Failure to do so may result in repeated ankle sprains.

Each subsequent ankle sprain leads to further weakening of the ligaments, resulting in greater instability and the likelihood of developing additional problems in the ankle.

Treatment for chronic ankle instability is based on the results of the examination and tests, as well as on the patient’s level of activity.


  • Physical therapy. Physical therapy involves various treatments and exercises to strengthen the ankle, improve balance and range of motion, and retrain your muscles. As you progress through rehabilitation, you may also receive training that relates specifically to your activities or sport.
  • Bracing. Some patients wear an ankle brace to gain support for the ankle and keep the ankle from turning. Bracing also helps prevent additional ankle sprains.
  • Medications. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, may be prescribed to reduce pain and inflammation.